The Quandong – The Blog

Saturday, Jun 18, 2011 at 17:56

Stephen L (Clare) SA

Back in late January of this year while taking a drive over to Moonta, we stopped to check out some local Quandong trees that we have driven past countless times over the years, with the view of collecting some of the old pitted stones. It was not until we were less than 2 metres from the bushes that we noticed that all the small Quandong trees were in flower, and this was the first time in my life that I had ever seen a Quandong flower. As the flower is so small, they blend in with the foliage of the bush and make them almost impossible to see from some distance.

By this stage, Val had started the great forum posts of “Wildflowers, Photos….” and I immediately thought that this was one very unique Australian plant that could be added to this story, as they had been a part of Australian life for thousands of year with our Aboriginal people that had contact with them, and with the coming of early Europeans, they have also played and important roll over the years. So back we went to the site again in early February of 2011 and proceed to take a number of images of the trees in flower, and put a post on the forum on the 12th February of this year. Like all of these Wildflowers, Photo stories, there were some good replies showing some great pictures of the ripening fruit, but none of it during its early stages of growth.

On Monday the 13th June, we again visited the trees again to see if the flowers had developed into new fruit for this year’s season, and we were delighted to see that all of the trees had lots of small fruit developing. Seeing that the original post had been archived and not being able to add any new images, I have now put this as a Blog, so I can follow the fruit as it grows from its beginnings as a very small flower, to growing into the unique Australian fruit that it is. By creating this Blog, I will be able to add more images and follow the growing fruit until it ripens.

So for those that missed the original post, this is what I put up, and now I will follow this through for all to see the growing process during 2011.

Santalum acuminatum or the Quandong is a truly unique native Australian fruit whose tart-tasting fruit can be eaten fresh or, more commonly, halved and dried and then reconstituted and used in a range of sweet and savoury products, such as preserves, sauces and chutneys, as pie filling. The kernel is also edible.

The Quandong plant is a shrub or small tree, up to 6 metres high, with somewhat drooping branches and slender, pale green to olive leaves from 3 – 9 cm long that are paired along the stem. It can be found growing wild in the arid and semi-arid regions of all Australian mainland states. In the Northern Territory the Desert Quandong is becoming scarce most likely as a result of camel grazing. Quandongs are commonly found in woodlands as scattered individuals or small groups on sands, sandy loams or gravelly ridges and occasionally on clay soils or rocky hillsides.

Ideally adapted to arid environments, the Quandong is a partially parasitic plant. Quandongs belong to the Santalum genus of plants and are related to Sandalwood, and more distantly to mistletoe, both of which are also parasitic. Unlike mistletoe which grows on the branches of its host plant, Quandongs attach to the roots of other plants (the host), using a specialized organ known as a haustorium. This pad-like organ is produced on the roots of Quandongs and partially envelopes and forms a connection with the roots of the host plants. This allows the quandong to simply take what water and nutrients it can get from the host, while still producing some of its own food through photosynthesis in its green leaves. Research conducted by Ms Beth Byrne at the Waite Institute, Adelaide Uni has shown that a Quandong can get all of its water and nutrient from a host plant. The best host plants are surface rooted, water storing, nutrient hungry plants. This includes all acacias, casuarinas and olives as well as many other trees and shrubs. Quandong trees can tolerate high soil salinity levels.

Flowering occurs on one year old wood commencing in late autumn and continuing through to early autumn. Off-season flowering may also occur in response to favourable weather conditions. Insects, including bees, native bees and wasps, appear to be the main insects for pollen distribution. The flowers are in pyramid shaped panicles at the end of the branchlets can be green or white on the outer parts, yellow or reddish brown on the inner faces and the individual flowers are approximately 2 – 4 mm long. Fruit, which may reach 25mm across, begins to change colour from green to red in late winter and ripen during spring. The stone of the fruit is deeply pitted.

Aboriginal Bush Tucker

Traditionally the Quandong was an important food source for Australian Aborigines. Amongst male members of central Australia's Pitjantjara people, Quandongs were considered a suitable substitute for meat - especially when hunting game was in short supply. Around the Everard Ranges, Quandong gathering and food preparation was considered Pitjantjara women's business. Ripe red Quandong fruits would be eaten raw or dried for later use. Everard Ranges Aboriginal women would collect Quandongs in bark dishes, separate the edible fruit from the pitted stone, and then roll the edible fruit into a ball The Quandong ball was then broken up for consumption by the tribal group.

Medicinal Uses of the Quandong

Amongst Australian aborigines Quandongs were much valued for their medicinal properties. Specialised uses of the Quandong included a form of tea which was drunk as a purgative. Quandong tree roots were also ground down and used as an infusion for the treatment of rheumatism. Quandong leaves were crushed and mixed with saliva to produce a topical ointment for skin sores and boils. Encased within each Quandong seed is an oil rich kernel which was also processed in a similar fashion to treat skin disorders. Quandong kernels could also be eaten and some tribal groups were known to employ crushed kernels as a form of "hair conditioning oil". Ingeniously Australia's aborigines appeared to be aware that Quandongs were a preferred food source of emus, and that a ready supply of Quandong seeds could be found in their droppings.

European Use of the Quandong

Australia's early pastoralists also discovered their own unique uses for the Quandong. Away from homesteads for weeks at a time, stockmen would often bake dampers infused with Quandong leaves. The result was apparently a refreshing change from the usual damper. When in season, many farmers would also take their families out for a Quandong picnic. After gathering Quandongs the peeled fruit was used to make a variety of jams, chutneys and Quandong pies. Such treats were often the only delicacies to be had - especially during drought and depression years when money was short. Today successive generations of rural Australians continue with their Quandong picking traditions.

Domestication of the Quandong

During the past 30 years the Quandong has become a firm favourite of Australia's burgeoning bush food industry. Commercial Quandong plantations are now an economic reality. True domestication of the Quandong remains some way off however - not altogether surprising given that established fruit varieties such as apples have been undergoing continuous selection and development for thousands of years. Since 1973 the CSIRO has been actively conducting scientific research into developing improved commercial Quandong cultivars.
The aim of such research has been to produce a bright red Quandong with good eye appeal, improved flesh texture, and a palatable mix of Quandong flavours, tannins and food acids. To date the quest for the perfect Quandong has proven elusive. Should CSIRO be successful however, then the Quandong will have become only the second Australian food plant species to have been successfully domesticated. Bring it on CSIRO!

Queer Quandong Facts

• Fossilised Quandongs have been discovered in the coal seams of Southern Victoria. Apparently these fossils date from 40 million years ago - a time when Australia was still linked to the Antarctic continent.
• Australian people often refer to Quandongs as the Wild Peach, Desert Peach or Native Peach.
• Quandongs have vitamin C content higher than oranges and almost certainly saved many early Australian explorers from scurvy.
Quandong fruit can be dried and frozen for 8 years or more, without losing any flavour whatsoever.
• Like the related Sandalwood, Quandong trees possess an aromatic wood that was traditionally used by aboriginal people in "smoking ceremonies".
• Rural Australian children often used Quandong seeds as Chinese Checker pieces.
• Santalum acuminatum is unrelated to the Blue Quandong (Elaeocarpus augustifolius) of the Wet Tropics, whose fruit is relished by Cassowaries and Musky Rat-kangaroos.

The images of the new fruit were taken on Saturday 18th June 2011 and I will update this Blog with new images during the rest of this season until the fruit is ready to be collected and cooked by Fiona.

Saturday 23rd July 2011

It has now been just over a month since our last visit, so we headed back over past Blyth and what a difference a month has made. The fruit has now changed from green in colour to a slight yellow colouring and the stones have now formed, and it was not possible to cut a fruit in half. Here are 2 more images to show just how much one month has made.

Saturday 20th August 2011

With another month passing by, it was time to head out to check on the growth of the Quandongs. The lot that I have been monitoring have grown in size slightly, but generally still looked the same. I searched about 10 bushed and on the last one that I was inspecting, one lonely Quandong has started to change colour, so it will be very interesting to see how they are looking in another months time.

Knowing where there were more Quandongs growning about four kilometres away, but in a very open area on the side of the road, we decided to check them out on the way home to compare the growth of the two area. Well before we stopped the difference was incredible. The size of the fruit that was ripe was well over the size of a 20 cent piece. Fiona was able to get a big bag full to try out the cooking skills of the Quandong.

Saturday 24th September 2011

Well it has been just over a month since our last update and in that time, there have been a big change in the growth of this patch of Quandongs. There were many that have ripened and quite a few have already been picked from the trees. The strange thing is that they all are ripening at different rates, with some fruit ripe and ready to pick, will the fruit right alongside of it is either still green, or in the ripening process.

One of the recipes that Fiona is using suggests sun drying the flesh before cooking, so that is what we are doing. The next step after this will be the cooking, so until that takes place, we will still monitor the site to check on the rest of the maturing Quandongs.
Smile like a Crocodile
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